Baltic States
June 24, 2003 GMT
Touring The Baltic States

To be perfectly honest - it was with a strange feeling that I approached the Baltic States. I had not met anybody who had been there and somehow the fact that these countries became independent from the former Soviet Union in 1990/91 had not really registered with me.

Since I want to go to all the capitals, Vilnius (Lithuania), Riga (Latvia) and Tallinn (Estonia), a natural first stop is Vilnius. I cross the border just north of Augustow, Poland and I have to pay an "entrance fees". Before the Lithuanians let a foreign motor vehicle enter their country, the driver is required to show a Lithuanian insurance policy. A sales office is conveniently placed next to the border guard. All other countries thus far have accepted the international motor insurance card issued by my insurance company. But okay - I give some extra points for "creative cash generation".

So, well-covered by the new insurance, I approach Vilnius - and dislike it right away. The city is very busy, a lot of road construction, it is getting late and I have problems finding accommodation. I end up in a motel near one of the major motorways. Not great but....

The next morning I just want to get on and I skip a tour of the city. If there is one idea that I have had about all Baltic States, it is that there should be great coast line. So I am heading off to the beach - and end up in a great seaside resort, Palanga. There is some irritation at the small hotel when I check in: the director does not like motorcycles in front of the hotel and I have to move it to a parking lot close by. The guard at that place in turn is very nice. He seizes the opportunity to practice the German, which he learned at school.


Palanga_boardwalk.jpg

The gigantic (600 m long) board walk on the Palanga beach at sunset"


The next day I pay a visit to a place that I had wanted to see for a long time: the Curonian Spit ("Kurische Nehrung"): a 97 km long, thin peninsula, more than half of it under Lithuanian jurisdiction, which separates the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon ("Kurisches Haff"). Great landscape and beaches -included in the UNESCO World Heritage as cultural landscape object.

I particularly like the large dune in the middle of the "spit", near the village of Nida:


Watering_hole.jpg

"Impressions from the Sahara? - No, a beach of the Baltic Sea"


Somehow this visit determines the course for the next couple of days. I decide to follow the coastline into Latvia and on. For a change, the border crossing into Latvia was almost pleasant. Very business-like border guards in a neat, new guard building.

My next stop is Liepaja - but somehow this is another city that does not appeal to me: too busy, I do not feel comfortable and I decide to go on towards Ventspils, further north on the coast. I have to leave the main roads and have to use smaller country roads. No a lot of traffic, but a very poor tarmac, which lowers my "cruising speed" considerably. I find a small campground with direct access to the beach and decide to stay for the night.

With me on the campground is a group of about twenty young people which I believe to be students. One of the group approaches me the next morning as I prepare to leave. As it turns out, the group belongs to the Latvian subsidiary of a major international advertising agency, who have come to this place for some corporate offside, to build the team spirit.

Andris Blaka, a senior member of that group, outs himself a fellow motorcycle aficionado (Kawasaki KLE 500). He knows the coast line and suggests that I follow the coast up north. Just north of the campground, the paved road turns into a gravel road, some 55 km of it. Before talking to Andris, I had already resigned myself to returning to the main road to Riga and wave the idea of following the coast. Andris insists, though, that the quality of the road is such, that it should be unproblematic even for the loaded BMW, and I decide to go for it.


Gravel_Road.jpg

"Following the coastline - on gravel"


The gravel stretch turns out to be manageable. I get to the northernmost point of this Latvian peninsula, a small place called Kolka: two dozen houses and a gas station. I count myself lucky, because by then my gas is running low and I was beginning to get nervous. So, back on paved roads and tank filled up it starts to rain hard. Tough. I start looking for a place to stop and to let the rain clouds pass by.

The next place I see has a KTM LC 640 Adventure parked in front of it. I take it a sign (you do not see very many motorcycles in Latvia), stop and meet Dzintars Baltais in the restaurant. He is on a trip along the coast in the opposite direction - albeit with a difference: he prefers to ride along the beach whenever possible. Sounds interesting, but I do not find it too hard to resist steering the heavy BMW onto the beach.


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"Dzintars Baltais and his KTM on the way to the beaches"


After about an hour or so, the rain has stopped and we move on. I head for Riga and spend couple of days enjoying the great scenery of the historic city center:


Riga_impression.jpg

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"Two great sights in the historic part of Riga"


The visit of Riga marks the end of my stay in Lativa and I move on to Estonia. The border crossing is easy and friendly. "Big skies" are the welcoming scenery:


Estonian_bigskies.jpg

"Big Skies over Estonia"


Before I had left for my trip, I had been advised to got the Estonian island of Saaremaa. On the way there I stop in yet another seaside resort Pärnu. I am staying only for one night but by chance I find a small Bed & Breakfast place. The people are very friendly and even make some room in the family garage for the BMW.

In order to get to Saaremaa, I have to get onto a ferry. It is only a short, 20 minute trip, but very enjoyable. The island is about 90 km in diameter and much larger than I had thought. I have already booked a ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki and I can spend only 2 days on this beautiful island. I stay on a very nice farm that has been converted into a Bed & Breakfast place. I explore the eastern part of the island where one sees many old windmills, but miss out on the city of Kuressaare with its medieval castle.

From here I ride up to Tallinn where the ferry to Helsinki is waiting. I find another historic city center and - this time more importantly - a small traditional coffee shop (super cappuccino and pastry!!!), which, in a quiet corner, has two Internet computers. A true "Internet Café". I go to this place on two days an finish my trip report on Poland.

Day two of my stay in Tallinn, marks the end of my tour through the Baltic States. The ferry for Helsinki is leaving in the afternoon.


BMW_onFerry.jpg

"Safely tied up for the passage to Helsinki


After almost two weeks in the Baltic States, I had completely forgotten about my initial reservations. I always felt safe and welcome. I enjoyed being at the coast, the beaches in particular. Everywhere, people were friendly, open and made every effort to speak either German or English. In all Bed & Breakfast places, campgrounds and restaurants you're bound to meet someone who would be able to help you. - In the end it I really wondered why I had waited so long to visit this part of the world......

More to follow.

Posted by Heiko Neumann at 09:13 AM GMT
 


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